Living up to a name: the Wave Ryder story

Former Navy safety Wave Ryder waits for the Midshipmen to be introduced before their game against South Alabama.

Former Navy safety Wave Ryder waits for the Midshipmen to be introduced before their game against South Alabama on November 16, 2013. Photo by Jake Russell.

On Wednesday, November 7, 2012, the Jeopardy clue read “Perhaps the most appropriate name ever: Wave Ryder, of this service academy.”

“I got a text message that said I was on Jeopardy,” Ryder said. “I was like ‘No. I’m at practice right now. I’m not on the show.’ And they were like ‘No. You were a clue on Jeopardy.’ I was like ‘No way!'”

It’s not often someone gets to literally and figuratively live out his name. But that’s exactly what former Navy football player Wave Ryder has done since childhood.

What Ryder and those who know him will say is that he’s more than a Jeopardy clue.

Ryder grew up in Kaneohe, Hi. with a tight-knit family consisting of his parents Mike and Wendy, brother Blaze and sister Kealani Kuuipo.

As a kid Ryder wanted to be an NFL player, frequently meeting all-stars who traveled to the state every year for the Pro Bowl. He played football, baseball and basketball and naturally loved the water, frequently taking to the ocean to surf, bodyboard and stand-up paddleboard.

Named after the song “Wave Rider” by Butch Helemano, a popular Hawaiian reggae singer, Ryder is frequently the topic of conversation wherever he goes.

“Every time [someone asks] for my name I’ll have to show them my ID and they’ll be like ‘Okay McLovin’ and I’ll be like ‘No. That’s my real name. It’s not a fake ID,'” Ryder said.

He often has to show two forms of identification if people don’t believe him. First, he’ll pull out his Hawaii ID. Then, if that’s not enough, he’ll bring out his military ID for confirmation.

Coming out of high school at Kamehameha Schools-Kapalama, Ryder had verbally committed to play at Utah State University, his only Division I offer at the time. On New Year’s Day 2010, fresh off a 35-13 Texas Bowl victory over Missouri to cap off a 10-4 season, Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo gave Ryder a call.

The ties between Hawaii and the Navy football team were already strong. Niumatalolo is a Hawaii native with strong roots to the state and some of Ryder’s friends were already on the team.

“I had already had people I played with in high school already at the academy so I gave them a call and talked to them for a little bit,” he said.

Three weeks later, Ryder visited the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. with his family, who fell in love with the waterfront campus and what the school had to offer. That visit sealed the deal for him and his family. Two weeks after that he decided to commit to Navy and move 4,846 miles away from home to play safety for the Midshipmen.

During the 2010 season, Ryder began on Navy’s junior varsity squad but eventually moved up to play in four games for the varsity team during the season, making his debut on special teams against powerhouse Notre Dame at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

His special teams prowess was the epitome of one of the team’s mottos: INAM, an acronym for “It’s Not About Me.”

He worked his way up to play in 12 games in 2011 and 13 in 2012, starting six. As a senior in 2013, he started 11 games and played in all 13 on the way to a 9-4 season and an 5-0 record at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

During his four seasons at Navy, Ryder played in the 2010 Poinsettia Bowl, 2012 Fight Hunger Bowl and capped his career off with a victory in the 2013 Armed Forces Bowl.

In his final season, Ryder was one of a select few to lead his team onto the field holding an American flag before each game.

“It’s an experience,” he said. “When we come out of the tunnel we have the jets flying over and I was fortunate to be one of the guys carrying out the American flag… it’s an amazing feeling. I can’t really describe it. It’s one of the things I’ll probably miss most. Just running out of all the stadiums and just being able to be in that moment. Sold out crowd. Everyone’s cheering. You’ve got the jets flying over the top at the Army-Navy game. It’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.”

As a young man in Hawaii, Ryder wasn’t fully aware of the significance of the historic Army-Navy game but still tuned in to watch the highly-anticipated rivalry on TV.

“I didn’t really know about it but I used to watch the game every year,” he said. “There’s no other college game on that weekend. It’s just Army-Navy so I grew up watching it but I never really understood or knew about how big the rivalry was.”

As a freshman, the realization finally clicked for Ryder. He could feel the electricity when stepping onto Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia before the 110th meeting of these respected institutions.

“The atmosphere is like no other,” Ryder said. “It’s amazing. It’s not just two teams that are rivals. It’s the history behind the game. The whole experience, it’s just different.”

Ryder was brought up as a University of Hawaii Warriors football fan. His family owned Hawaii season tickets in 2007 when the Warriors went 12-1 and made an appearance in the 2008 Sugar Bowl. His favorite player was former safety Leonard Peters, who he tried to model his style of play after. So when November 9, 2013 rolled around, he was amped. The Warriors traveled to Annapolis to take on the Midshipmen in Ryder’s second-to-last home game donning the blue and gold.

“I didn’t care if we won one game but we had to beat Hawaii,” he said.

“My family flew up for that game. We had big support. I guess it was kind of a big game for me, especially being interested in Hawaii and not really getting offered I felt like I had something to prove. I knew a lot of guys on the team so it was even a bigger game for me.”

Ryder logged a season-high 12 tackles against his home school on the way to a 42-28 Navy victory.

Despite his love and interest in the University of Hawaii, his recanted verbal commitment to Utah State and the rigorous schedule Midshipmen must follow on a daily basis, Ryder said he has no regrets about opting to build a new life at the Naval Academy.

“Coming here definitely made me grow up a lot faster and realize what I want,” he said. “I feel like people coming out of here are more mature than the average college student.”

Ryder is currently working with the Navy football team as a graduate assistant, helping with video production and aiding the recruiting department.

In January, Ryder will travel to Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida, where he will train to become a Navy pilot. Ryder logged 10 flight hours soloing in a Piper Warrior during basic training. He will then advance to training in a T-6.

“I had some mentors who were also pilots,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to fly so that was just the extra boost I needed. I’m excited.”

Ryder will spend the next eight years as a pilot. He will earn his wings once he graduates flight school in two years and then report to his assigned squadron, where he will likely fly overseas.

Looking back on his four years spent at the Naval Academy, Ryder has some advice for anyone considering the opportunity to be a Midshipman.

“Work hard. The mission of the academy is developing people morally, mentally and physically,” he said. “Not just focusing on athletics or academics but just being well-rounded and studying hard. If this is really what you want to do you’re going to work hard no matter what.”

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